Marie Stolkowski's Graduation Cap Honored Grandparents who Survived Holocaust

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“I would not be here at all if it weren't for the willpower of my paternal grandparents,
Isaac and Renee, as they fought to survive the Holocaust…”

By Ryan Clark
Web Marketing + Communications

When it came time to decorate her cap for NKU graduation, Marie Stolkowski only had to think about her grandparents, and how their faith and bravery carried her to her own greatest achievement.

Marie Stolkowski

“I would not be here at all if it weren't for the willpower of my paternal grandparents, Isaac and Renee, as they fought to survive the Holocaust,” says the 25-year-old graduate with a Master of Arts in school counseling. “My grandfather Isaac Stolkowski jumped off a train headed to Auschwitz and was taken in by a German civilian who risked both their lives to mend his broken leg. My grandmother Renee hid and raised her younger siblings in an orphanage run by Christian nuns in a nearby country.”

Marie moved from Cleveland two years ago to earn a master’s from NKU, and when she walked in her graduation ceremony last month, she did so with pictures of her grandparents on her cap.

“It was unthinkable to do anything but honor the life and legacy they've left behind for me today as I completed an education they could never have hoped or foreseen for their grandchild,” she says. “As one professor in my college said at commencement, ‘I know who to thank!’”

Not only did she remember her paternal grandparents, she also included pictures from the maternal side as well – John and Helen Lunter.

My maternal grandparents showed me what it is to love your fellow man, no matter what,” she says. “I would be hard pressed to find a memory of my childhood family gatherings that didn't involve my grandparents inviting homeless parishioners to their dinner table, or having my cousins and I walk the streets of Ohio City to pass out plates to homeless people sleeping in store lobbies or alleyways.”

Marie is now actively seeking school counseling positions in Columbus and Cleveland.

“I hope to continue to help youth overcome barriers to their academic success, their personal and social well-being and their college and career readiness,” she says. “I know all four of (my grandparents) would be very proud of me.”

When Marie began her graduate assistantship in the dean’s office at the College of Education and Human Services, she noticed a prominently featured quote by Forest E. Witcraft:

“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

The quote spoke to her, so she shared it on Facebook.

“My Aunt Laurie replied that this quote was actually a favorite of my late grandfather John,” she says. “That makes perfect sense to me and I hope I have shown, in many ways, what a lasting difference he and all my grandparents have made on the lives of their grandchildren.”

Marie Stolkowski

Marie Stolkowski moved from Cleveland two years ago to earn a Master of Arts in school counseling from NKU. When she walked in her graduation ceremony last month, she did so with pictures of her grandparents on her cap.